Blistering Vision: Charles E. Burchfield’s Sublime American Landscapes, will bring together important paintings and supporting sketches of the landscapes that Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967) chronicled throughout his career. The exhibition will propose that his paintings of nature, and the industries that threatened it, form a bridge between the aesthetics of nature in 19th century American painting and the emergence of the environmental movement and environmental aesthetics in the second half of the 20th century.
In his painting Storm Over Irondale, from 1920, threatening clouds hover over a bleak industrial landscape tucked away in an otherwise empty valley thirty miles south of his hometown of Salem, Ohio. Raw shattered trees are all that remains of what would have once been a verdant wilderness. In a sketch for this sublime painting, Burchfield wrote the following: "Life at Irondale is hideously raw, crude & primitive – it is splendid in its very brutality - powerful and awe- inspiring." The young Burchfield, growing up in Salem, experienced this landscape during a tumultuous time, when industries were going from boom to bust and the will to protect nature was not yet strong enough in the culture at large.
His commitment to nature never wavered, and his primary expression was through his paintings. Blistering Vision: Charles E. Burchfield’s Sublime American Landscapes shows that Burchfield’s aesthetic concern with nature was indeed serious, that his paintings of the American landscape remain an important part of our understanding of the environmental challenges presented by industry in the first half of the 20th century, and that his concerns for the environment were prescient, expressed from within the dialect of the tradition of the sublime, extending its reach into the new context of environmental aesthetics.
Exhibition overview from museum website